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Top Of The Progs: ELP - Fanfare For The Common Man

The inside story of classic prog hit singles

Keith Emerson remembers taking prog to No. 2 in the charts the year that punk rock broke!

Fanfare For The Common Man b/w Brain Salad Surgery

(Atlantic, 1977)

Highest UK Chart Position: No. 2

This was the eighth single released by ELP, and the only time they ever charted. The original composition by Aaron Copeland was only about three minutes in length, but ELP expanded this to nine minutes, 40 seconds, although the single edition was cut down to three minutes. When the song was played on the Christmas edition of Top Of The Pops in 1977, Legs & Co. performed a routine round a suitably festive tree!

Where did the inspiration for the song come from?

“Well, I'd heard it played at the end of Aaron Copeland's Third Symphony. We'd previously done his Hoedown on our Trilogy album, and when I found out he'd actually written 10 fanfares, I thought we should do his Fanfare For The Common Man. It needed transposing, so I did that first. I wanted to improvise in a key that was sort of bluesy. It ended up in E. The rest of it was straightforward, really. In order to get the shuffle sound, the timing had to be changed, but it was common sense.”

(PIc: Getty)

What was the reaction to it?

“Well, we had to get the permission of Aaron Copland himself to do it, as he was the composer. The publishing house said forget it. But I didn't give up so easily, so got Mr Copland's home number, called him up and he was very friendly on the phone. And he said, 'Send it to me, let me listen'. And he loved it. He called me and said 'This is brilliant, this is fantastic. This is doing something to my music'. So he was positive. And of course, it became a staple of the ELP live set, and was a fan favourite, even though the single version was edited down quite a lot.”

Did you feel like pop stars?

“Pop stars? Not at all. That was never something we considered. But the hit did get the attention of other musicians outside of prog. And made us a little more well known. I know one disco group got in touch with Mr Copeland to ask his permission to do their own version after hearing what we'd done. But he refused. I don't know whether this is true or not, but he is supposed to have once said that, because ELP had a hit with Fanfare..., most people thought I was the composer and not him.”

Was having a hit a blessing or curse?

“I've never even thought about it, to be honest. To me, that sort of thing is irrelevant. All that mattered was being able to play the great man's music and have him approve.”

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